Sporting Kansas City
There was a point Sunday afternoon in which things were looking pretty good for the Fire’s positioning in the East. DC United had just suffered a somewhat controversial 1-1 draw at home to Philadelphia while due north Bright Dike and Darlington Nagbe had put the West’s bottom team Portland up 2-0 at New York.
Of course Kenny Cooper and Tim Cahill had pulled the home side back level before halftime, the Timbers flubbed two breakaway chances and Heath Pearce headed home the winner in the 83rd minute to push New York back into sole possession of second place in the East.
Later on Sunday night, Columbus used goals from Cole Grossman and Eddie Gaven to erase a 1-0 deficit but had to settle for a 2-2 draw when Andy Gruenebaum muffed Adam Moffat’s 82nd minute equalizer.
WATCH: Red Bull 3, Timbers 2
The result meant that the Top 5 in the Eastern Conference closed the weekend the same way they entered it, effectively pushing the Fire back down to fourth place (losing the goals scored tie breaker to Houston).
All this is by way of saying its going to be a scrap or as Brendan Hannan put it this morning, a “real dog fight” the rest of the way in the Eastern Conference. With 10 matches remaining and five of them against the other four in the Top Five, the Fire control their playoff destiny and seeding perhaps just as much as anyone in the East.
"[Playoff qualification] is in our hands," head coach Frank Klopas told Chicago-Fire.com Monday. "They’re all obviously difficult matches because most of the games we play are going to be against teams that are going to be right there until the end. Its exciting but I think we feel good about having those games at home and having the opportunity to control our own destiny."
While Montreal and Columbus still have a shot at the postseason, popular opinion has the top five now remaining the top five come October 28 making a “mini-league” of sorts the rest of the way for the Fire, Sporting KC, Red Bull, the Dynamo and United.
See below the “mini-league” grid of remaining matches between the East’s top 5 teams.
|vs. 9/14||vs. 9/28||-|
|x||-||vs. 10/6||@ 8/29|
|HOU||@ 9/14||-||x||@ 9/2||-|
|CHI||@ 9/28||@ 10/6||vs. 9/2||x||
When looking at the chart, two things undoubtedly stick out...
1) No that's not a mistake, the East's top two teams Sporting KC and New York, will play eachother three more times through the end of the season. Depending on how their other matches go (something that will continue to be a common theme), the Conference's top seeds could well be decided in those three games.
2) The Fire are the only team in the Top 5 that will play everyone around them and have two games against D.C., meaning the team seems to have the best shot of controlling it's own destiny in the tight playoff race. With 15 points available in these matches, if the Men in Red can take anywhere around 11 or 12, they could be in very good shape for a top two finish.
Either way, the Fire manager reiterated the game of most importance is the one upcoming.
"It’s up to us," continued Klopas. "We don’t have to rely on other teams like we did last year but the most important thing is to not look too far down the road and so our next game against D.C. is what we have to hone in on right now."
One-named players in the game of soccer are almost exclusively Brazilian. Going by a single name is almost a rite of passage for anyone that learned to play “joga bonito” growing up and its no different for new Fire arrival Alex who didn’t take long to put the Brazilian flare on display in last Friday’s 1-0 victory at Sporting KC.
While Alex shows promise, I thought it a smart exercise to detail the other Major League Soccer’s other one-named players that Alex should look to as an example.
Welton (New England, 1996; LA Galaxy, 1997-99; Miami 1999-00) - One of my sentimental favorites, Welton (pictured right) never really won a title in MLS and but #OldSchoolMLSFans will remember him as one of the most successful one-namers in league history (as well as a constant on my early MLS Fantasy team).
A traveling man of sorts, the Rio native would tally 43 goals and 34 assists over 144 career matches for New England, LA and Miami. He twice hit for double-digit goals in a season, scoring 11 goals in 1997 and 17 goals in 1998 for the Galaxy.
Fire fans will probably remember him best for ruining Zach Thornton’s shutout bid in the 2000 U.S. Open Cup Final with his 90th minute strike, which was the last goal he would score for an MLS side.
Camilo (Vancouver, 2011-present) – The midfielder led the Whitecaps with 12 goals and three assists over 32 matches in the club’s inaugural MLS campaign last season. His scoring pace is slightly slower this season with only three goals and two assists but he’s aided Vancouver to third place in the West at the half way point.
Preki (Kansas City 1996-2000, 2002-05; Miami 2001) – The best one-namer in league history isn’t even Brazilian. Preki’s (right) story is well known… a Yugoslavian indoor star who made his way back to Europe to play for Everton and Portsmouth before returning stateside to carve out one of the top careers in MLS history.
Spending all but one of his 10 MLS seasons in Kansas City, Preki amassed 79 goals and 112 assists in 242 games from 1996-2005, winning one MLS Cup (2000), two Supporters Shields (2000 KC; 2001 Miami) and one U.S. Open Cup (2004). He was twice named MLS Most Valuable Player in 1997 and 2003 and had four seasons in which he hit double-digit goals (scoring 18 in 1996).
Oh he also scored the United States’ only game-winning goal against Brazil.
Preki was good, that’s all.
Juninho (LA Galaxy, 2010-present) – There have been more than a few Juninho’s before the Galaxy’s Juninho Paulista came onto the MLS scene but the central midfielder has proven to be one of the best one-namers ever in MLS. Since coming to the Galaxy on loan from Sao Paulo in 2010, Juninho has appeared in 72 matches, tallying seven goals and five assists while helping the Gals to a Supporters Shield and the team’s third MLS Cup last season.
Thiago (Chicago Fire, 2005-2007) – No Fire list of one-name players could ever be complete without Alex’s precursor at the club, Thiago (photo right). After impressing on a trial in 2004, the Porto Alegre product joined the Fire in 2005 and would go on to tally six goals and seven assists during his first season in Chicago.
The following year, he would bag just three goals and two assists in the league but wrote his name into Fire lore for his late-game, close-range tap-in to send Toyota Park into pandemonium as the Fire clinched their MLS-record fourth U.S. Open Cup title with a 3-1 victory over the LA Galaxy on September 23, 2006.
With diminished playing time in 2007, Thiago was released by the Fire that September. Now 30, he’s bounced around Brazil’s lower leagues, winning the Campeanato Gaucho Segunda Divisao with hometown club Porto Alegre in 2009 and currently plays for Sao Luiz de Ijui.
1) FIRE LOVE NBC SPORTS… If you didn’t already know, tonight’s match can be seen LIVE on NBC Sports Network and that’s a good thing for the Fire. The side has won both previous matches on the national sports network earlier this season (3-2 at Toronto April 21; 3-1 vs. New York June 17) and had three different players score in both matches. Will the good ride on NBC Sports continue tonight?